The territory that lay between the shores of the Cradle and the limits of the Third Dominion had been, until the Autarch’s intervention, the site of a natural wonder universally held to mark the center of the Imajica: a column of perfectly hewn and polished rock to which as many names and powers had been ascribed as there were shamans, poets, and storytellers to be moved by it. There was no community within the Reconciled Dominions that had not enshrined it in their mythology and found an epithet to mark it as their own. But its truest name was also perhaps its plainest: the Pivot. Controversy had raged for centuries about whether the Unbeheld had set it down in the smoky wastes of the Kwem to mark the midpoint between the perimeters of the Imajica, or whether a forest of such columns had once stood in the area, and some later hand (moved, perhaps, by Hapexamendios’ wisdom) had leveled all but this one.
Whatever the arguments about its origins, however, nobody had ever contested the power that it had accrued standing at the center of the Dominions. Lines of thought had passed across the Kwem for centuries, carrying a freight of force which the Pivot had drawn to itself with a magnetism that was virtually irresistible. By the time the Autarch came into the Third Dominion, having already established his particular brand of dictatorship in Yzordderrex, the Pivot was the single most powerful object in the Imajica. He laid his plans for it brilliantly, returning to the palace he was still building in Yzordderrex and adding several features, though their purpose did not become apparent until almost two years later, when, acting with the kind of speed that usually attends a coup, he had the Pivot toppled, transported, and set in a tower in his palace before the blood of those who might have raised objections to this sacrilege was dry.
Overnight, the geography of the Imajica was transformed. Yzordderrex became the heart of the Dominions. Thereafter, there would be no power, either secular or sacred, that did not originate in that city; there would be no crossroads sign in any of the Reconciled Dominions that did not carry its name, nor any highway that did not have upon it somewhere a petitioner or penitent who’d turned his eyes towards Yzordderrex in hope of salvation. Prayers were still uttered in the name of the Unbeheld, and blessings murmured in the forbidden names of the Goddesses, but Yzordderrex was the true Lord now, the Autarch its mind and the Pivot its phallus.
One hundred and seventy-nine years had passed since the day the Kwem had lost its great wonder, but the Autarch still made pilgrimages into the wastes when he felt the need for solitude. Some years after the removal of the Pivot he’d had a small palace built close to the place where it had stood, spartan by comparison with the architectural excesses of the folly that crowned Yzordderrex. This was his retreat in confounding times, where he could meditate upon the sorrows of absolute power, leaving his Military High Command, the generals who ruled the Dominions on his behalf, to do so under the eye of his once-beloved Queen, Quaisoir. Lately she had developed a taste for repression that was waning in him, and he’d several times thought of retiring to the palace in the Kwem permanently and leaving her to rule in his stead, given that she took so much more pleasure from it than he. But such dreams were an indulgence, and he knew it. Though he ruled the Imajica invisibly—not one soul, outside the circle of twenty or so who dealt with him daily, would have known him from any other white man with good taste in clothes—his vision had shaped the rise of Yzordderrex, and no other would ever competently replace it.
On days like this, however, with the coid air off the Lenten Way whining in the spires of the Kwem Palace, he wished he could send the mirror he met in the morning back.to Yzordderrex in his place and let his reflection rule. Then he could stay here and think about the distant past: England in midsummer. The streets of London bright with rain when he woke, the fields outside the city peaceful and buzzing with bees. Scenes he pictured longingly when he was in elegiac mood. Such moods seldom lasted long, however. He was too much of a realist, and he demanded truth from his memory. Yes, there had been rain, but it had come with such venom it had bruised every fruit it hadn’t beaten from the bough. And the hush of those fields had been a battlefield’s hush, the murmur not trees but flies, come to find laying places.